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Ants in Your Pants? You'll Probably Live Longer

Posted: 2010-09-30

from The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 30, 2010. This fellow hangs his first grade report card on his office door. . . as something that illustrates his personality.

If only my first-grade teacher had recognized me for the health pioneer that I was.



Jim Sollisch



I was one of those kids who couldn't sit still. My mother was forever saying that I had shpilkes—Yiddish for ants in your pants. Who knew it could save my life?



According to a recent study by the American Cancer Society, the more you sit still, the higher your risk of premature death. Women who sat for more than six hours a day increased their risk of premature death by 37% and men by 18%. Even in healthy people with normal body weights, too much sitting seems to have a negative effect on blood sugar and blood fats. Too much idle time decreases the production of lipoprotein lipase, or LPL, that's vital to healthy processing of fat. And the scary part is that sitting for long periods of time seems to negate the health benefits of rigorous exercise.



All of this is just from one study. A large Australian study from January 2010 looked at TV watching time and premature death and found the same correlation.



The bottom line: Don't just sit there—fidget. Bounce a leg. Get up and stand every 15 minutes or so. Take a quick walk around the room.



If only my first-grade teacher had recognized me for the health pioneer that I was. Here's what she wrote on my report card in the comments section: "Jimmy has to learn to sit still and stay in his seat. He can't jump up every minute and run around the room."



Oh yes he can. That's how I get through the day.



In the ad agency where I work, I'm what's known as a moving target. In fact, my first-grade report card hangs in a frame on the door to my office, along with my name and title. (Years ago, everyone at our agency was asked to bring in something small that illustrated their personality.) So now, when people come to look for me, they inevitably find my seat empty and Mrs. Cheesbrough's comments, rendered in perfect schoolmarm script.



When I'm forced to sit in a meeting, I bounce my legs, cross and uncross them every 10 seconds, and squirm in my chair. If that chair's got casters, I might even give it a spin. And that's before the meeting starts. During the meeting, I stand for a while or pace.



Not only does all that tapping and leg crossing and squirming burn off calories, but fidgeting also has a positive effect on brain activity. There are literally hundreds of studies showing that physical movement provides a boost to thinking and problem-solving. There's even a study that found that people could solve word association problems faster when walking backward than when sitting still or walking forward.



If you work in an office, here's an even more important reason you should get up and walk around: You'll communicate better. Stop sending all those emails and go talk to people. Many companies are finding that as people cut down on email and increase face-to-face communication, work outcomes improve.



So even if you aren't particularly interested in living longer, getting up and out of your seat can help you lose weight, think better and communicate more clearly. Take that, Mrs. Cheesbrough.



Mr. Sollisch is a creative director at Marcus Thomas LLC.

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